Friday, February 20, 2009

Vegas 3: Springs Preserve

Faced with the prospect of four days in Las Vegas mostly on my own, I did a little online research and turned up the Springs Preserve, a two-year-old combination nature preserve/botanical garden/hiking opportunity/playland/future home of the Nevada State Museum. I initially thought the garden portion was free--and that the whole thing was on the outskirts of town, out where our hotel/spa/casino/conference center was located. Wrong on both counts! The Preserve, which is not far at all from the Strip, will set you back nearly $20 ($4 off with AAA membership), but it was worth every penny. I spent over four hours on the site and still didn't manage to cover everything I'd hoped to. (Guess those hiking trails will have to wait till next time.) This place is immense!

My favorite way to describe Springs Preserve is with this SAT-style analogy:
SP is to the average botanical garden as Cirque du Soleil is to Ringling Bros. This is plant geekdom, Vegas style. But even to call it a garden is to distort the focus: there's a section on the Hoover Dam, a display of gila monsters and other desert critters, a million-year history of Nevada (narrated by President Martin Sheen, no less), a research library, a garden-design clinic, two gallery spaces, multiple performance venues, a locavore-focussed Wolfgang Puck (TM) restaurant, a swank gift shop, and lord knows what else.

I've posted lots of annotated photos here, but there are plenty more where those came from, so here's a mini-tour in words and pictures, starting with a rooftop overview of the entryway ...

Here's the sort of planting that greets you early on, and is omnipresent throughout:

The entire facility has a subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, didacticism--the punchline is basically that, hey, Vegas is in the middle of a desert and the planet is on the verge of death and thus it would behoove us all to use less water and less everything. (Works for me!)

I was happy to see a compost-themed playland for the kiddies, encouraging them to enter a simulated pile (shortly after frolicking in an actual garbage truck full of simulated trash).

Compost is also stressed in the grown-ups section, too: one display (which didn't seem to be active during my visit, but it's a great idea) demonstrated how the same plant grows in regular desert soil and in organically amended soil.

Dr. Greenthumb's Plant Hospital was closed during my visit, but I'd love to check out one of these giveaways. (There's also an annual native plant sale.)

It's all very hands-on; in one interactive display you're invited to take a drink of water ...

... and when you do, lights on the other side of a two-way window/mirror are activated and you find out just where in Vegas that water comes from, and where it goes next:

It follows, then, that even the (water-saving) bathrooms are gorgeous::

(The truly cool part--long tubes that emerge from the ceiling and send jets of water onto sinkless sponge pads--is included in the Facebook photo gallery.)

It struck me as typical of the Wild West that, once you enter the main gate, you can explore the territory any way you like. There are maps, but there's no single direction to head. You're totally on your own, free to create your own "experience," as heavy or light on gadgetry as you desire.

I've got even more to say about this place, so watch for future posts. And start planning your own trip.

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